The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 1

                            Mars vs Venus

 

Quite honestly, I don’t know if women are from Venus and men, Mars. What I do know is that men and women look at the world differently. We can argue why this is until and even after the car is in the garage. The fact remains, the sexes see life from different perspectives. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

As a reader, as a male reader, I find I tend to gravitate towards certain types of books. And I am not just referring to genres here. I’m talking about characteristics. Such things as pacing, the amount of action, humor, violence, and sex.

A few months ago I referenced an article by Kate Summers, “Adult Reading Habits And Preferences In Relation To Gender Differences”. The article is informative and I think for the most part right on.

So I thought I’d revisit Ms Summer’s article and answer the questions she gave her survey participants. I dropped one of her questions and replaced it with one of my own. Here are the results (my answers are italicized):

1. How many books do you read in a year?

About two dozen or more.

2. Do you generally prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction.

3. What nonfiction topics interest you?

Airships, history, philosophy, cooking, ships.

4. Do you have any favorite genres you like to read?

Mysteries, science fiction, adventure, sea stories.

5. Do you read series books or do you prefer standalone books?

Series.

6. What are a few of your favorite books?

An Artist Of The Floating World, The Remains Of The Day, Seneca’s Letters, Earth Abides, Day Of The Triffids, On The Beach, Wingman.

7. Do you have any favorite magazines?

No.

8. Who are a few of your favorite authors?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Daniel Pinkwater, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard.

9. Do you typically prefer male authors or female authors?

Male authors.

10. Do you typically read books that feature male protagonists or female protagonists?

Male.

11. Were you encouraged to read when growing up?

Yes.

12. How do you choose books to read?

Subject, word of mouth, reviews.

13. Do you belong to a bookclub?

No.

14. Do you discuss books with your friends?

Not usually.

15. Are you an active member of any book related social networking sites?

No.

16. Do you own an ereader?

Yes.

17. In what format do you prefer to read, print or digital?

Doesn’t matter.

18. What kind of reading do you do online?

Nonfiction and research.

19. Do you become interested in reading a particular book if it is adapted into a movie or a TV series?

Not especially.

What I discovered is that my answers more or less fit in with those of fiction reading men. Good to know I’m normal, at least as far as reading is concerned.

In Kate Summers’s survey, women overwhelmingly preferred fiction to nonfiction. This may account for the perception amongst males that fiction reading is for “sissies”. And most males would rather die than be accused of being a sissy. Which may also account for men publicly declaring a preference for nonfiction.

I grew up in a family where reading was encouraged and my father read fiction. Consequently, fiction has always been part of my life and was nothing I was ashamed of. And I’m very glad for that.

Summers’s survey revealed women tend to be eclectic readers, having no preference overall for male or female protagonists or authors. On the other hand, a strong majority of men prefer male authors and male protagonists. This preference may be due to males more than females needing to identify with the characters. This was clearly seen in a survey of 11th grade boys and girls, where 43% of the boys compared to 35% of the girls cited needed to identify with the characters in a book.

Reading habits of men and women are important to writers — if the writer desires to write to a target audience.

Males tend to prefer action and humor. I discovered I’m a bit of an oddball in this regard as I don’t care for unrelenting and fast-paced action. I like action, but keep it to a few action scenes. I prefer plenty of non-action or little action and a whole lot of character development. Slowburn fiction is more my speed.

Females, on the other hand, tend to like romance and realistic fiction dealing with relationships.

As a writer, I find these preferences very interesting. It seems men tend to prefer plot-driven stories, with women preferring character-driven stories. Maybe that’s why men, for example, prefer thrillers (lots of action), whereas women prefer mysteries (especially cozies) where relationships and the characters’s personalities play a much larger role.

Every individual is, of course, unique. But generally speaking, it seems men and women form two different reader groups. What I see going on today amongst writers, both indie and traditionally published, is a catering to women readers at the expense of men. And this is taking place among both men and women writers.

The key to success, so we writers are told, no matter the genre or target audience (such as YA), is to have a kick-ass heroine. I think the underlying reason for this is the notion that in general men don’t read fiction. Which is, of course, not true. Men do read fiction. But men tend not to be social about their reading habits and therefore their reading choices generally don’t show up in surveys.

But we’ll save this part for next week, where we will examine the bias against men.

And if you are a man reading this post, please consider answering the questionnaire above that I took and put your answers in the comments.

Until next next time, happy reading!

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The Author Helper & ReaderLinks

One of the first things you’ll notice as an indie author is that there are hundreds of people and businesses all vying with each other for your money. Ostensibly they will tell you how to tap into the gold mine that is indie publishing.

Some are legit and others are simply in it for the money, that is to take your money and put it in their pockets. Some are authors who have made it big and want to share the secrets of their success. A portion of those will only sell the info to you. Others will give you free info, as well as sell more in-depth information.

It’s a jungle out there and it’s only getting worse.

Today, I want to introduce you to two guys who are successful authors (that means they make money) AND are interested in sharing their knowledge.

The Author Helper

John Logsdon and Ben Zackheim are two guys who write fiction and also want to share what they know with the indie community.

I ran across their website, The Author Helper, when I took Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course last year. The website has good information. You should check it out at the above link.

I also joined The Author Helper Facebook group, which I encourage you to join because it is a great community with a number of successful indie authors as members. There’s nothing like being with successful people to show you that, yes, you too can be successful.

ReaderLinks

For the past several months I’ve been part of a beta group testing the replacement for the Author Helper plugin. The plugin was great, but had limitations due to the vagaries of WordPress. John and Ben decided the way to go was to build a website subscription service that offered all the advantages of the plugin plus so much more.

I count myself very fortunate to be part of the beta testing team and can tell you that this is one fabulous tool for authors to manage the business side of our little empires.

You need a Sales Tracker? ReaderLinks has it.

Do you want universal book links? ReaderLinks has it.

Need Tweet management and automation? ReaderLinks has it.

Want one place to display all of your books? ReaderLinks has it.

Street team management? ReaderLinks has it.

And that’s not all! There is much, much more. Head on over to the ReaderLinks website. Watch the video, and then subscribe. It’s launching soon. Get in on the ground floor. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

ReaderLinks and The Author Helper are valuable aids to help us promote our books and put money in our pockets.

Comments are always welcome, and until next time — happy reading!

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Book Review: A Quiet Life in the Country

Superb indie writers abound. Many readers complain about the indie revolution and all the crappy books out there. Granted, there are a lot of crappy books being published. But they aren’t all indie. A very sizable portion of them come from the corporate giants on their never-ending quest for the next blockbuster.

Some of the best books I’ve read this year and last year were written by indie authors. And some of the worst books I’ve read last year and this year were published by the big corporations. In this day and age, who publishes a book is no guarantee of the book’s quality.

Last week, I reviewed indie author Agatha Frost, who writes contemporary cozy mysteries. This week, I want to take a look at cozy author T. E. Kinsey, who started out going indie and then accepted a publishing deal from Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint.

When I picked up a copy of A Quiet Life in the Country it was #1 on Amazon’s list of Bestselling Cozy Mysteries. That was on 2 July 17. As of yesterday (7 August), the book was #15. A long ride being in the top 20.

So what makes Kinsey’s 1908 aristocratic sleuth, Lady Hardcastle, so popular? To me the answer is simple: appealing characters, humor, and good storytelling.

The same combo that works for Agatha Frost, works for Mr Kinsey. In fact, it’s the same combo that pretty much works for every author or book I like.

The only downside to A Quiet Life In The Country is that the pacing tips towards the glacial. What saved the book for me was the humor. The jokes and puns and banter made the slow spots bearable.

The storyline is the same as in all mysteries. Lady Hardcastle and her servant, who is also her friend, have moved to the country after a life of adventure. And then they stumble across the body and then another.

Through a ruse they are allowed to work with the police detective. Eventually Lady Hardcastle and the detective solve the murders.

All pretty standard. Which is why character and humor are so important, as well as good storytelling — which turns the already familiar plot into something interesting.

Highly recommended! Get yourself a copy of A Quiet Life In The Country. You won’t be sorry.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Review: Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery Series

I’ll put this out front: I don’t like cozy mysteries — generally speaking.

That’s the qualifier: “generally speaking”. Exceptions abound and that is what makes life interesting. The syncopation that shakes up the rhythm of life.

And Agatha Frost has provided wonderful syncopation by creating a delightful amateur sleuth in Julia South, and a most enchanting village in Peridale.

So, if I don’t like cozies, why am I reading them in the first place? That’s a very good question and the answer, in a word, is research. Research? Yes, indeed. You see, I’m thinking of writing my own cozy mystery series and I thought I should read a few and see if I could stomach them enough to write my own.

I tried this decades ago with romance novels, found they darn near made me regurgitate, and gave up on the idea of writing the things.

To my utter surprise, Ms Frost provided me with entertaining read after entertaining read. I blew through the six novels she had published — pre-ordered the 7th, which has now been delivered to the Kindle app on my iPad. Amazon is already flying the “Bestseller” banner on the book and it’s only been out for 2 days.

What is it that Ms Frost does right? Again, in a word — characters. The Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery series is filled with interesting and entertaining characters. There is, of course, Julia herself. She is such a dear. Very likable for the most part. Like most people. Then there’s her crazy (as in unorthodox) grandmother. Dot is the perfect comic relief. We also have Julia’s ward, Jessie, and Julia’s blossoming romance with Barker, the police detective. The banter between Barker and Julia and Barker and Jessie provides lots of laughs as well.

The characters are simply wonderful and so is the humor. Lots of humor. There are also the day to day goings on of small town life and the murders and the social commentary. All are combined into a recipe guaranteed to produce a few hours of satisfying entertainment.

And the things I detest about cozies — the police being bumbling idiots, the amateur sleuth being simply brilliant, and the constant meddling of the amateur in a police investigation and not getting herself arrested — are pretty much absent from Ms Frost’s tales. And that is refreshing.

Julia is a bit more savvy than Barker on the crime solving. But then she grew up in Peridale and Barker is an outsider, a big city guy, unfamiliar with small town dynamics. So I can accept her superior puzzle solving ability.

Ms Frost’s writing style is straight forward. Nothing fancy. The dialogue is realistic and the description just right. The books are on the short side: 48,000 words or less. Which suits me just fine. I’m getting too old for ponderous tomes, where I might die before I can finish the thing.

My only gripe is that her proofreader sucks. The constant use of “her” instead of “she” is very annoying. Julia South became Julia Smith for a brief moment in one book. And the other grammatical and typographical errors that are so obvious one wonders how they got missed.

Ms Frost’s saving grace is that she writes a truly fab story. Her writing lets me be forgiving of the less than stellar proofreading. But just barely. I’m very fussy when it comes to such obvious errors in such numbers.

So what did I learn about writing cozies from my experiment?

  • Make sure the main characters are interesting, as well as the important supporting cast.
  • Give the amateur sleuth a police connection (which we also see in TV mysteries such as Grantchester and Castle, for instance).
  • Humor. Lots of humor. Doesn’t have to be rolling on the floor belly laughs. Wit, whimsy, and amusing interactions work just fine.
  • Introduce the murder early on. Second or third chapter. We are reading a murder mystery after all.
  • The pacing doesn’t have to be fast. Character, humor, and the murder can hold sufficient interest. Which is fine with me. I don’t care all that much for these full-throttle thrillers. They’re usually light on character and heavy on the action, and for me that gets boring after a while.

On the marketing side, I noticed, since this is a culinary mystery, the covers all have food on them and are brightly colored. The titles are also alliterative and have a food theme as well.

I highly recommend Agatha Frost’s Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery series. It’s a winner.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

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To the Stars

Astounding Science Fiction August 1940 cover for Lester Del Rey’s “The Stars Look Down”

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.

The sentence translates to “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” It is line 437 of Seneca’s play Hercules Furens, and is spoken by Megara, the wife of Hercules, to Lycus, the tyrant who usurped her father’s throne.

The meaning is clear: there is no easy path to fame, to glory.

Recently Jackson Dean Chase posted a link to a blog article, “Stop ‘trying hard’ and produce more if you want to smash it as a writer”. The article could not have come at a more appropriate time for me.

In brief, the article notes that creative people have no concept of the quality or value of their own work. In fact, a creative’s own estimation is often at odds with that of the public.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hatred of Sherlock Holmes immediately comes to mind. He thought the great detective frivolous and the stories not at all great literature. Yet history has proven him wrong. Of the vast number of novels and stories that Doyle wrote, it is Holmes who is associated with Doyle’s name and by which he’s remembered.

George Frederic Handel loved Italian opera and continued to write and produce operas for a London audience that no longer wanted them. He ended up bankrupt and in ill health. Forced by circumstances, he turned to English oratorio and wrote Messiah. Which by the way was hated by the librettist because Handel produced the sacred drama in concert halls!

Handel did learn his lesson and milked Messiah for every shilling and pound he could get from it.

HG Wells thought his greatest work was the world history he wrote. Today, no one knows he wrote one.

I observe my fellow writers frantically following one success guru after another in the attempt to become bestselling authors. They look like sheep in search of a shepherd. Like parrots, they repeat the supposed mantras of success over and over. Usually without giving them any thoughtful consideration.

Every now and then, I find myself caught up in the stampede until a friend graciously pulls me back to reality. It’s easy to follow the crowd. After all that’s what lemmings do when they run over the cliff into the sea.

Seneca is right. The path to the stars is not an easy one. Why? Because there is no easy formula to follow. There is no one how-to manual that works for everyone.

No one knows how a bestseller is born. No one.

What does that mean for us writers? Quite simply, it means we must write. And write a lot. Write until that bestseller is discovered.

Margaret Mitchell is very much the exception and not the rule. In spite of us writers wanting to make her the rule.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and probably had a hand in at least 10 others. But how many can we even name? Let alone the number that are regularly produced?

Because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success, there is no external help for us writers. As Rainer Maria Rilke noted, there is no one outside of ourselves who can give us strength, encouragement, and support. It is all inside. We must look inside ourselves for what we need to succeed.

Of all that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote (and he wrote a lot), the one character that stands out is Tarzan. The same for Lester Dent. He wrote hundreds of books and stories. His name, however, is forever tied to Doc Savage.

Handel wrote 42 operas and 29 oratorios (amongst many other works). Mention his name and everyone says, Messiah.

Burroughs did not set out to become famous by writing Tarzan. Nor Dent, Doc Savage. Nor Handel, Messiah. It was the public who decided what would be their claim to fame.

Because we writers, and creatives in general, are very bad at predicting our own greatest work, our only recourse is to write lots and give it to the public and let them decide.

In my own case, I expected Festival Of Death, with my private detective Justinia Wright (who I dearly love), to be my “bestseller”. Imagine my surprise when The Morning Star, the initial book in my post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe series, has to date, outsold Festival of Death by an almost 5 to 1 margin.

Never in a million years would I have guessed that to have happened. So my writer friends, keep writing. The public will find your best book for you. That is one thing you don’t have to worry about. Just write and trust your public.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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What’s in a Cover?

Of late, I’ve had several of my fellow writers tell me my book covers don’t reflect the genre, or they need a bit of work, or that they could be better — more like the top selling indies in the genre.

All of that may be true and may be part of the reason I’m not rolling in the dough after 3 years of being an independent author-publisher.

So I’ve been having myself a major think. Significantly enough, the above comments came on the heels of my having listened to the two modules in Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula 101 course on covers and blurb writing.

Mark Dawson’s cover designer and artist, Stuart Bache, in the module on covers noted there are two different approaches to book covers: genre similar and genre standout. If you take a look on Amazon or even a walk through a bookstore, you’ll quickly see what is most popular. Genre similar. Why?

Because people are in a hurry, as the thinking goes, and what a genre similar cover does is tell the potential reader this is a sci-fi novel or a romance or a mystery or a thriller. Then other factors begin to influence. Title. Author name. Blurb.

However, if I’m specifically looking for a science fiction novel, a genre similar cover does nothing for me because I already know I’m looking for science fiction. I’m standing in the science fiction section of the bookstore. Or I searched for science fiction on Amazon. I think that is something that’s important to keep in mind.

Bryan Cohen, who presented the module on blurb writing, said that Mark Dawson’s own survey of his readers, asking what actually got them to buy the book, said it was the blurb — by a 5 to 1 margin — over the cover. Why? Because Dawson’s covers are all genre similar. There is nothing to distinguish his covers from any other author’s in the genre.

As a reader, not a writer, but as a reader, what do I look for when I’m looking to buy a book? Me. Not some survey, or industry standard. Me. What do I look for? After all, I’m the reader I know best.

I think that is an important question to ask. So I expanded my think to include the actions I went through to buy my last few books. And what I came up with for me is:

Unless the cover is truly a standout cover, it’s the title that draws my attention. Or the author’s name. When looking at the search results.

I haven’t been in a brick and mortar bookstore in quite awhile, so I limited myself to how I go about looking for a book on Amazon. This is the procedure I came up with for how I, a 64-year old guy, looks for a book to buy. Keep in mind younger men may do things differently, as most likely do women.

  1. I select the Kindle store.
  2. I key in the genre or sub-genre I want to read.
  3. I scan the search results.
  4. I pick a book.
  5. I read the blurb.
  6. I take a look at the reviews.
  7. If I’m still interested, I “Look Inside”.
  8. If still interested, I buy the book.

Those are the steps. Now let’s look at an example.

At step 2, I keyed in “private investigator mystery series”.

The results I got — minus cozies that got in there and box sets and sponsored ads — were the following in order on the first page:

The Mystery of the Secret Parents – Dan Taylor

 

 

 

Easy Prey – Dan Ames

 

 

 

Murder with Sarcastic Intent – Dan Ames

 

 

 

The Observer – T. Patrick Phelps

 

 

 

The Kill List – David Archer

 

 

 

Haggard Hawk – Douglas Watkinson

 

 

 

Tackling Death – Bud Craig

 

 

 

Double Fake, Double Murder – Dallas Gorham

 

 

 

Hidden Agenda – David Archer

 

 

 

After scanning the list, I ruled out Murder with Sarcastic Intent because the cover hurts my eyes, it’s that garish to me.

From the thumbnails, you can see genre similar prevails. What caught my eye was the first book: The Mystery of the Secret Parents. The cover is somewhat standout, the colors catching my eye. It doesn’t convey genre very well, but then I already know it’s a mystery because that is what I searched for. The title is a good mystery title. Not thrillerish. Just a good old-fashioned mystery.

So I clicked on the book and read the blurb, which was okay. So I looked at the reviews. There were some that threw up red flags for me, but I decided to “Look Inside”. Once I did, I said, Nope. Not for me. Back to step 3.

The only other book on the page of search results that caught my eye was Dallas Gorham’s Double Fake, Double Murder. The cover was a traditional murder mystery cover, which is what I like. The title conveyed the same idea, so I took a closer look.

The blurb didn’t particularly grab me. Too much selling in it. The reviews, though, were pretty good, so I took a “Look Inside”. Sad to say, I wasn’t impressed, and passed on the book.

Analyzing my process, I came to the conclusion that for me — genre similar covers without an eye-catching title — don’t pull me in from the search page. Notice, I passed on Dan Ames’s book with the genre similar cover and lackluster title. Which was the second book on the list.

What caught my eye, were the two covers that were somewhat different. With the title being the clincher.

If a standout cover and a snappy title are what catch my attention on the Amazon search page — where I’m already  looking for a genre specific book — then why would I want to put boring genre similar covers on the books I write? I think the answer is obvious: I don’t.

To my mind where all of this genre appropriate cover advice goes south is that I’m not looking at a mix of genres and trying to find the genre I like. Which the cover would identify for me. I’ve already passed by that step by searching specifically for the genre I want to read. No one seems to have grasped that.

Now the danger in having too standout of a cover, is it can turn people off. As did Ames’s Murder with Sarcastic Intent.

Circling back around, as I’ve noted in previous posts, there is a lot of group think that goes on with people. There is a lot of thinking invading self-publishing that comes from traditional publishing. Which may be appropriate for the Big Corporate types, but not for us indies.

Even when I regularly visited bookstores and looked at books on a self, I went to the genres I wanted to read. And I passed by all the genre similar covers, unless they had a standout title, or a familiar author name, and picked up the book with the standout cover.

So are my covers hurting my sales? It’s possible. Or is some other factor at play here? Such as my doing virtually no advertising?

I’m inclined to think the virtually no advertising may be the actual culprit here, not the covers.

Of course the only way to know for sure is to do a test. Slap a few genre similar covers on my books, do nothing else, and see if I get better sales results. That test I’m considering. It might prove to be very interesting.

As always, your comments are very much welcome. If you’re inclined, take a look at my Amazon page and see if you think my covers are a problem. If you think they are, let me know. I genuinely want to know. But do look at them as I did above, in a long list of books in the same genre. Just so we keep things the same.

Until next time, happy reading!

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A Nest of Spies

Yesterday, A Nest Of Spies (Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mysteries, Book 5) went on pre-pub sale.

In this new mystery, Tina meets some old friends, we learn a bit more about her mysterious past, and are with her as she fends off the FBI and the Patriot Act. Pick up a copy for just 99¢!

I decided to collect books 0 through 4 into an omnibus edition: Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mysteries Omnibus Edition. At $7.99, it’s 60% off the individual volume retail. If you haven’t met Miss Wright, this is a good time to do so!

The traditional mystery is my cup of tea, particularly the private eye mystery. I don’t read mysteries for the puzzle. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? As with all the fiction I read, I read for the characters. I am more interested in how the sleuth reacts to the problem than in looking for the clues to solve the case ahead of the detective.

They’re also somewhat slower paced. I don’t particularly care for thrillers. There’s too much frenetic activity in them for my liking.

After the third Quiller novel, I stopped reading. They were all same and the situations Quiller found himself in and how he got out of them stretched my sense of credulity to the breaking point.

The same with Jack Reacher. I read the first two books and my reaction was meh. Lots of action kept me turning pages, but in the end I didn’t care for, nor even much liked, Jack Reacher. He was too perfect and pretty much made of cardboard.

Lee Child created Reacher to be that person who gives all the playground bullies the thrashing they deserve and don’t often get. Unfortunately, for me, he does so too perfectly and has such a bland persona I don’t care about him.

On the other hand, I love reading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Eccentric to a fault, Wolfe is nevertheless likable. And wisecracking Archie Goodwin? How can you not like him? The banter between Wolfe and Goodwin truly spices things up in a way no thriller can touch.

If you like a solid traditional private eye mystery, take a look at Justinia Wright. The pacing isn’t frenetic, but there are plenty of thrills and spills. Along with eccentricities, there’s wit, wisecracking humor, and good old sibling rivalry.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

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The Actual Cost of Publishing A Book

So my writer and reader friends, how much do you think it costs to self-publish a book?

Some will tell you a couple thousand dollars. A well-known indie thriller writer, in his course for writers, said one could publish a book for $500 on a tight budget.

Chris Fox, on a podcast I recently listened to, said he spent $800 for a cover re-make as part of a series re-launch. Then, because he didn’t like it, paid another $1000 to get it “right”. And that was just the cover. No mention of any other fees.

The thing I’ve noticed with so much of the advice out there being offered to independent authors by other independent authors and so-called writing and publishing authorities is the amount of money I “must” spend when on even a tight budget just to publish my book.

Swinging Alexander’s sword at the Gordian Knot, I’m going to tell you the truth. The true and actual cost to self-publish a book is nothing. Nothing but time. In other words, if you are truly on a limited budget, you don’t have to spend one red cent to publish your book.

If you don’t have disposable income, you don’t have it. Writers such as Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, and Chris Fox all had, apparently, large amounts of disposable income to pour into their nascent self-publishing endeavors. Lucky them.

Let me repeat that. There are some writers who had upscale jobs or careers and large amounts of disposable income available to them when they started their writing careers. Money to spend on editing, covers, formatting, and the like. They are the fortunate ones. The ones with the silver spoons in their mouths.

There are many of us, perhaps most of us, who didn’t and still don’t have disposable income available to fund our publishing dreams to any large extent.

The writers mentioned above who are “killing it” also write to market — which is very important to keep in mind.  Because they have a greater chance of getting their money back.

Not all of us wish to do that. In other words, they write for money. Quite honestly, a memoir — no matter how well written and exciting — isn’t going to match up in the sales department with something like Michael Anderle’s Kurtherian Gambit urban fantasy/sci-fi novels.

On the flip side, there are writers who make a decent living from their writing who have never had a bestseller and who don’t hangout in the Amazon top 100 club.

But what one writes is another subject. The fact of the matter is this: you don’t have to spend anything to publish a book these days. No matter what you write.

Think of book publishing as though it were gambling. Because, quite honestly, any business is really a form of gambling and book publishing whether on the mega-corporate level or on the self-published level is not a whole lot different than a game of Texas Holdem.

So what does this mean for you, the independent author? Quite simply it means you have to decide how much you are willing to lose on any given book. Because, especially when starting out, you have no guarantee you will make any money.

Michael Anderle, in an interview, mentioned why he didn’t pay money for an editor to go over his first books. It was this: following the principal of MVP (the Minimally Viable Product) he didn’t want to spend more than he had to on a book when he had no idea if it would even sell. He let his readers tell him what was wrong and right with the books he was producing. And his reader’s did: good stories, lousy editing. So he fixed the editing.

Once you’ve decided how much you are willing to lose on a book, then you know how much you can spend on editing, proofreading, the cover, and formatting. Just like in a poker game. If you’ve decided you can afford to lose a thousand dollars on the luck of the cards, then that’s your limit. Because you have no idea if you will win anything at all.

Self-publishing is no different. It’s a business and you have to decide how much you can afford to lose should your product not sell. Any business that continues to pour money into a losing product is going to go broke. And in the book business the competition is fierce. I read a couple years ago that 3,000 books a day were being published. There are millions of books on Amazon. Who is going to see yours? But that’s a marketing question and not germane to the cost of producing your book. But just keep in mind, the competition.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to cost you anything to publish your book.

In the 3 years since I started this adventure, I have published 22 books. I came into self-publishing right when it was changing from the gold rush days to today’s highly competitive and fierce competition. Those days when all one had to do was write a series, make the first book permafree or 99¢, sit back, and enjoy the sales, to today’s super competitive environment where free books are more plentiful than gold ever was. Back then competition was slim. Today it is a whole different ball game.

I came into self-publishing with some knowledge, but was woefully ignorant in a lot of areas and I made lots of mistakes. Mistakes which I must now work with or work around. That said, I’ve spent nothing on editing or proofreading. I used free help and my own time. No one has ever taken me to task over bad editing. I spent nothing on my covers. Nor have I spent anything on formatting. Since I don’t have money, I have to spend my time.

So in 3 years how much money have I made? Not much. I don’t advertise except on social media (which I find to be mostly worthless), yet I sell an average of 9 to 10 books a month. Michael Anderle, who had a good paying job and a wife with a good paying job, spent money on Facebook ads almost right away and saw hundreds of dollars in sales per day. I don’t have $50/day to spend on Facebook advertising. Even $5/day would be stretching it.

For most of us, I think my experience is more the norm. Writers, most writers, don’t make money or a lot of money off of their writing. Unless they write to market and are prolific. And have money to start with.

The genres I write in are not barnburners either. Post-apocalyptic with no zombies. Traditional murder mysteries, not thrillers. Alt history/dieselpunk. Slow burn or whimsical horror. If I wanted to make piles of money, I’d write what is currently popular. Romance, paranormal anything, thrillers. Or erotica (sex sells, after all).

So I spent nothing on the actual production of my books because I didn’t have the money to spend. If I had spent the above mentioned $500 per book for a person on a tight budget, I’d be in the hole $11,000. In three years of self-publishing, I’ve made $600. Looking at those numbers, I’d say I’d have to declare bankruptcy.

However, any money I do make on my books is all profit. Because I have no debt in the product.

I saw on a Facebook forum that one writer of a general fiction novel scraped together $440 for an editor. On her first book. I feel sorry for her. She gave in to the current hype that one just has to have one’s book professionally edited. I hate to say it, but she will probably not see that $440. It’s gone. Because a general fiction book, according to all the experts, will not sell well in the indie world. The indie fiction world is genre driven. It’s like the old pulp fiction world of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. The keys to indie success are:

  • write in a popular genre, that is write to market
  • write in a series, because indie readers like series
  • write fast
  • publish often

The only exception to writing in series that I see is if one writes romance, erotica, or horror. And even romance and erotica often involve series characters or a common universe.

That writer with the general fiction book? IMO, the $440 spent on an editor was a waste. She did it because she felt it would be a learning experience for her. Perhaps. But you can either tell a story or you can’t. And if you can’t, no editor is going to help you with that unless they essentially become a co-author.

The only successful writer (defined by making a living from writing), I’ve run across who understands the money end of self-publishing is Patty Jansen, an Australian writer of sci-fi and fantasy.

She honestly states you don’t have to spend a dime on publishing your book. You can do quality yourself. The questions you have to ask yourself, though, are these: how much is my time worth, and will doing it myself take too much time away from my writing?

Those are very important questions to ask. For me, DIY does not take away from my writing. But it might for you. If that’s the case, then you need to look at how much you can afford to lose in order to protect your writing time. At least at the beginning of your career.

To repeat: how much does an independent author-publisher have to spend to self-publish a book? Nothing. You don’t have to spend one red cent.

However, you might want to pay for some services to protect your writing time. Always keeping in mind how much you’re willing to lose on the book and not succumb to temptation to go over that.

If you are an indie author and one who isn’t writing in the most popular of genres, then I think you need to be careful as to how much money you put into your books. Tom Huff wrote spy novels under his own name and sold few. Under a slew of female pen names he wrote romance. As Jennifer Wilde, he tore  up the sheets with his bodice rippers.

My point here is this: if you write what you love, you might not make any money from it. That is a fact of life. So invest your precious dollars carefully. If you write to market, that is you write in the most popular genres and cater to all the whims of marketing to the readers of that genre, you might make a lot of money. In which case, the risk to put more money into your book might be worth it. But do remember, Michael Anderle and TS Paul just wrote their books and threw them out there. And they are laughing all the way to the bank. Only now are they going back and fixing their lack of editing. (Which in my opinion they could have largely fixed by being just a touch slower to market in order to read through their typescript at least once out loud.)

Self-publishing is gambling. If you keep that in mind, you’ll protect your money and spend it wisely.

If you are an indie author, I hope this and my previous two posts have been of benefit. If you’re a reader, I hope these posts have given you a better understanding of the ins and outs of self-publishing. Next week, I’ll be off on some other tangent.

As always, I appreciate your comments and insights. Until next time, happy [indie] reading!

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The Parasitic Middleman

During a Gold Rush, Sell Shovels.

In 1848, Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco with a glass bottle filled with gold dust, yelling gold had been discovered out at Sutter’s Mill.

He is generally credited with starting the California Gold Rush. And became California’s first millionaire. Yet he never panned or mined for gold.

A few days prior to his hype with the bottle of gold, having learned gold had indeed been discovered by the American River, he’d bought every pickax, pan, and shovel he could find. In nine weeks, by selling his goods at exorbitant prices, he made $36,000. That’s equivalent to the economic status 18.5 million dollars would bring someone today.

Many icons of American business got rich in the Gold Rush and never touched any gold, except to take it from the miners.

Levi Strauss had a dry goods business by which he did quite well for himself. He also sold miners the forerunners of what became Levi jeans. He eventually left California, went home, and became exceedingly wealthy selling jeans.

Phillip Armour opened a meat market in Placerville, then took his profits back to Chicago and founded Armour Meats. And increased his wealth many times over.

John Studebaker sold wagons, made money, and returned home to make wagons for pioneers and later on Studebaker automobiles. I remember those cars and I still love them.

Henry Wells and William Fargo started a bank for miners, at least the ones who made some money. Today, Wells Fargo is a leading American bank.

During the California Gold Rush, the middleman, the merchant, the one who offered services, that’s the person who really made the money. Not the prospectors.

Fast forward to today and a different kind of Gold Rush. The indie author/publisher revolution. There are thousands of writers and hopefuls and wannabes all clamoring for the dream of writing and publishing the Great American Novel. That one book that will let them quit the day job and retire to the Bahamas.

Sounds a little bit like the Gold Rush, doesn’t it?

Today’s indie authors are the prospectors and an army of service providers are making money hand over fist off of these poor and sometimes naïve dreamers.

So who are these service providers who’ve convinced so many, many writers they can’t live without their services? Let’s name a few of them.

Sellers of Writing Software Programs. Seriously? I need software to write my book? Whatever happened to pencil and paper? Or the keyboard and the word processing program on my computer?

Now I’m not going to say Dragon, Story Mill, Easy Writer, or Story Weaver can’t help you write. But before you spend money, maybe money you don’t really have, ask yourself if you really need a software programmer and his toy to help you write your book. Just think of the thousands of writers before you who didn’t use such programs and got along just fine. Some using an ink pot and a steel dip pen or a quill even. Maybe you can too.

Grammar, Spelling, and Editing Software. I see some value to this. But honestly, can’t people do a better job? Give me one serious beta reader with an ear for cadence and a knowledge of grammar and who can spell. I’ll pit that person against an army of programmers and software running simply on rules.

Formatting Services. When I started in the indie writing business. I’ll admit I was loathe to spend money. First off, I’m not rich. Secondly, I already had the California Gold Rush scenario in the back of my mind. So I spent $25 for Legend Maker to make my ebooks. It’s a simple program and requires only simple formatting of my typescript. In less than an hour I can format my text and in less then 10 seconds get an epub and mobi file. Now if I had to pay a formatter for my 20 books… Hm, probably a lot more than $25.

Cover Artists. Yes, we all need covers. But seriously, have you taken a look at indie book covers lately? They are so genre similar, they all look just the same. Like the ticky-tacky houses and people in Malvina Reynolds’s song “Little Boxes”. It is no wonder Mark Dawson’s readers said the incentive to buy his books didn’t come from the covers — but from the blurb! By a 5 to 1 margin! The lesson here is simple: don’t spend big bucks on a cover. Spend time crafting your blurb.

Professional Editors. Recently I’ve heard all manner of arguments as to why I need a professional editor to edit my book. It’s as though the editor is going to teach me how to be a better writer. But editors aren’t writers. They’re essentially critics. They served a need for traditional publishing to make sure a manuscript, if accepted, was salable. In other words, that it met the publishing house’s criteria for salability.

Which means, an editor is not primarily a teacher of writing — but a fixer for the publisher.

Now I’m not saying an editor can’t be helpful. But if you need a content editor to massage your manuscript into something that is genre and reader acceptable, maybe what you really need is time spent learning the craft of writing.

Stephen King shows us the path to becoming a writer: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t see the word editor anywhere in there.

The indie movement is direct from writer to reader. The reader will tell you what he or she likes. So recruit them to be your “editors”. Not some academic or someone the Big 5 laid off. Trust your readers. If they don’t like your book, no amount of work from an editor is going to help it.

And I can’t see spending money on a line editor. Find a beta who will do that for you. Preferably someone older who knows how to spell.

We indies broke free from the tyranny of the corporate publisher. Why do we want to saddle ourselves with all the crap the corporations imposed on us? Makes no sense to me.

Review Services. Kirkus is making money off indies to the tune of $500 per review. Wow. That’s incredible. So are outfits like Reader’s Favorites. Pay them money and get a review. They won’t guarantee a 5 star review. But honestly, you think they want to give less than 5 stars and have disgruntled writers bad mouthing them?

I’m not saying these services can’t help sell books. But are they truly any different than the now discredited practice of buying 5 star reviews? Organic and honest reviews by readers are what really sink or float a book. And to get them takes time.

Discount Book Marketers. These outfits are more prolific than mushrooms after a rain. For a fee, they will tweet your book and post about it on Facebook and send it out to their mailing list (along with scores of other books). The problem I see with these outfits is that they encourage indies to constantly offer their books for free or 99¢. And in the long run that trains readers to expect from indies nothing but free or 99¢ books. Very bad for business that mindset.

I’ve come back to the position that if I don’t value my work, who will? If I offer everything I write on the cheap, what does that tell readers? If I barrage my mailing list with free offer after free offer, how can I expect them to buy my books? I’m competing with myself by offering them free books! Not a good business practice at all. Save your money and stay away from these folks. This writing business is really about building a reader base. Not selling books.

Writing Courses. Writing courses have been offered since ever. Everyone who thinks he or she can write has at one time offered one. There are good courses and bad courses. Just like everything else.

However, I do think you are better off taking a good writing course than resorting to an editor for every book you write. Learn the craft of writing. If you don’t know the basics of storytelling, a writing course can help you with that. And that’s about all it can do. The rest of it is back to Stephen King. Read lots. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like about what you read. And write lots. Putting into practice what you’ve learned from reading.

Writing is hard work. Fun work, but hard work. Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time to develop the craft. A potter doesn’t throw a perfect pot the first time on the wheel. Take the time to learn the craft.

Marketing Courses. These are legion now. Many, many successful indies are putting together courses to teach their fellows the path to success. And charging big bucks to do so. And, as with anything else, some are good and some are bad.

One so called expert got her claim to fame by being a New York Times bestseller. The problem is, the book that did it for her was in a multi-author box set and her name wasn’t even in the advertising! Cheating if you ask me. Yet, she is a respected expert on marketing. Go figure.

Another novelist wrote a few books that apparently sold well or made number one on some list. Now he no longer writes fiction, just sells his course on fiction writing success. Ugh.

So be careful. Vet the person you are going to take a course from or buy books from or get advice from.

The best advice for the money I’ve gotten to date was free. A blogpost by Australian indie novelist Patty Jansen. Wish I’d had that information 3 years ago. You can read it here.

Not everything that shines is gold. Not everything of value costs big bucks, although sometimes you do get what you pay for. We indies are the prospectors. So remember this: the worst time to buy a shovel is on your way to the gold field. Get it before you leave home and take it with you.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Professional Editing — Is It Necessary?

From the New Yorker on Charles Dickens’s 200th Birthday

Is professional editing necessary? The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe.

But before we get into this subject, we need to define what is meant by “professional editing” and what is meant by “necessary”.

What is Professional Editing?

A professional is one who does something for a living. An editor, in our context, is a person who “corrects” a typescript for a novel or story.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of editors: content editors and line editors, or proofreaders.

Content editors edit a book’s content. They look for continuity issues, plot holes, structure issues, character defects, and the like. This is high level editing.

Line editors, or proofreaders, look for typos, misspellings, grammar issues, punctuation problems, and the like.

The purpose of an editor is to alert the author to problems with the book so the author can fix them and supposedly improve the book. However, a professional editor isn’t the only person who can do this. As we’ll see.

Necessary

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines necessary, in our context, as something “that must be done; mandatory; not voluntary; required.”

Is an indie author required to use the services of a professional editor? Obviously not, since they are voluntarily hired in the first place. Therefore a professional editor is not necessary. Is one recommended? Maybe.

The Problem with Editors

The problem with editors is the same problem with any professional: they’re human. They’re people like you and me and that’s the problem with them.

Professionals charge money for their services — but in the end can really guarantee nothing. When I hire an editor, I’m simply hiring one person’s opinion. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This goes for any professional. Whether your doctor or your mechanic. We all know there are doctors who make bad decisions (I was the victim of one) and mechanics who are unscrupulous. We who are the non-professional need to be as informed as possible, so we aren’t taken for a ride.

Every editor I know, puts his or her pants on the same way I do. Sure he or she may have gone to school to learn the craft of writing. But I know of few editors who make a successful living from writing fiction. If they can’t make a living from writing fiction, then how valuable is their advice?

“But so-and-so — an award winning author — has John Doe for an editor. So John Doe must be good.” That’s assuming the writer’s success can be directly attributed to the editor. And if it can, then I question the writer’s ability to write. If a writer can’t succeed without an editor, then in effect the editor has become a co-author.

At the end of the day a professional editor has biases, prejudices, agendas (just like everyone else) that have nothing to do with my writing or me as an author. Yet those biases, prejudices, and agendas can adversely affect me as author.

The Problem with Writers

We writers, as many in the creative arts, are plagued with a host of self-defeating problems. They seem to go with the territory. I know I’ve had my share. Here are a few:

  • Insecurity issues
  • Inferiority complex
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • The need of approval by others and from those in authority

These problems open writers up to be easy marks for the unscrupulous.

Writers fall victim to people who provide them with approval. Writers who seek approval from authority figures lose their sense of self.

I think that’s one reason why we still have traditional publishing today. Because the insecure writers need to get “approval” from the “authorities” in order to shore up their self-esteem. Getting a publishing contract makes them feel worthy. And let’s them look down their noses at the indie author “who just couldn’t make it”.

Traditional publishing is an ego trip. My agent. My editor. My publisher. And many writers want that ego drug.

And many indie authors seek the same high. “I couldn’t have done it without my editor.” Or my cover artist. Or my formatter. Or what have you. These people sound just like their traditionally published counterparts.

The point of being an indie is independence. Freedom from all that crap. The indie movement is about the producer marketing directly to consumer. Cutting out the middleman. Kind of like the farmer’s market versus the grocery store.

Solution

Are indie authors therefore free from the task of editing? Heavens no! Not if they’re concerned about putting out a quality product. The question is, do they need to hire a professional editor? And the answer is, no they don’t.

If a writer knows how to tell a good story, there is little need for a high-level edit. The content editor has little to offer. If a writer is concerned about the craft of storytelling and is in the lifelong process of honing his or her craft, then a content editor will have little to offer.

Now that same writer might benefit from a proofreader. But one doesn’t need to hire a line editor to get those services.

If a writer is not very good at telling a story, then a high-level edit may be of great help. But what may be of even greater help is simply more writing. If you’re going to an auto mechanic, do you want the one who is fresh out of school with little to no experience? Or do you want the guy who’s been doing it for 20 years?

It’s the same with writing. Practice makes perfect. It’s why Edgar Rice Burroughs advised writers to write lots. One story has little chance of getting published (in a magazine). But write a hundred and one or more will probably be accepted.

Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules of Writing operate on the same principle: lots of writing and the constant submission to market of that writing.

Writers can only improve their writing by writing. No amount of academic learning or professional editing can improve a writer’s work. Bad writing can’t be edited into good writing. It’s just well edited bad writing.

The first novel I wrote, Festival of Death, way back in 1989, was not ready for publication when I finished writing it. I was honest with myself. I read the manuscript and it just did not compare with the novels I was reading. I put it away, also realizing I didn’t have the stuff to rewrite it and make it better. Twenty-five years later, I had that stuff, rewrote it, and was pleased with the finished product. I didn’t need an editor to tell me all that. In the interim I did lots of writing. I gained confidence. I became a better writer.

We writers don’t need to spend any money to edit our own work. There are many tools available to help us and even without all those tools, there are people who won’t charge anything to proof our work and offer constructive suggestions for improvement. And I heartily recommend the people approach.

Here are a few suggestions based on my own practice:

  • Read your story with a critical eye. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
  • If your characters don’t make you laugh or cry, they won’t make the reader laugh or cry.
  • Read your story aloud for flow. It’s a great way to catch clunky sentences and sections that are confusing.
  • Have the computer read to you while you follow along. The computer reads exactly what’s there. A great way to catch typos and misspellings.
  • Have someone read the text to you. This combines reading the story aloud and having the computer read to you — with the added advantage of the reader being a human other than you.
  • Use the spell checker and grammar checker in your word processing program or something like Hemingway or Grammarly.
  • Use good beta readers to catch issues you didn’t catch. A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in gold. What is a good beta? One who likes your genre and ideally your writing, who has a good understanding of what makes a story work, is someone you can trust will be honest with you, understands grammar, and knows how to spell. These people exist. Go find them.

That’s all you need, and none of it costs money. Unless you choose to buy some editing software — which isn’t at all necessary. But a nice little luxury.

One other caveat: don’t be in a rush to publish. We’re indie authors. We set our own schedules. There’s no one to tell us what to do except ourselves.

We indie authors are independent authors. Don’t become a victim of the Should Mentality or the You Have To Mentality.

We write for readers, not editors.

Enjoy your freedom from the man. I do.

Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you think. And until next time, happy reading!

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